Tag Archives: The FA

Lasogga and Saiz the key to Leeds United promotion push

With Leeds sitting just outside of the top half of the Championship, it’ll take a big push to get the fans dreaming of promotion to the Premier League.

Nine teams are vying for the four slots in the end of season lottery, although Aston Villa and Derby would appear to have two sewn up. That leaves two from seven; Leeds United being one of those seven.

Paul Heckingbottom might have his work cut out in achieving Leeds fans’ dreams, but being unbeaten in the last three matches is a great basis for a late surge. The recent 1-0 win against Brentford was a huge morale boost, given the Bees are close rivals in the play off hunt.

Despite defender Liam Cooper scoring the only goal of the game, it was the partnership of Samu Saiz and Pierre-Michel Lasogga that really got fans pulses racing. In that combination lies Leeds’ best hope of putting together some end of season form and maybe, just maybe stealing sixth spot from under rivals’ noses.

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Pierre-Michel Lasogga By Amy.Leonie – Eigenes Foto; aufgenommen beim Training von Hertha BSC Berlin, CC BY 3.0,

Lasogga is on loan from Hamburger SV and currently has ten goals to his name. It’s not been a great season by his own high standards; spells injured and on the bench have disrupted his momentum. What could he have achieved though if he’d stayed fit and in Thomas Christiansen’s plans?

Lasogga had five goals from seven matches going into March, a run of form that will be crucial to any lingering hopes of promotion.

If him hitting form wasn’t enough, Samu Saiz is also back in the starting line up after a horrible start to 2018. His dismissal in the FA Cup defeat against Newport might have been controversial, but Christiansen cites it as one of the reasons he was dismissed. The Spaniard might be unpredictable, but on his game he’s unplayable. Saiz has five goals and five assists this season, the second highest number of assists in the squad after Pablo Hernandez, having played six matches fewer.

The odds are not in Leeds’ favour, they’re a long way down the list for promotion, priced as 50/1 for a long-awaited return to the top table, well behind next best bets Brentford and Preston on 14s and 20s respectively.

It might still be worth looking at the bet £10 get £30 888sport betting offer, though, as Lasogga can be found at a generous price to finish as the league’s highest scorer. He’s seven behind in the charts at the moment, but with Saiz providing the bullets he might be a long-shot to storm up the table.

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Pablo Hernandez By Juan Fernández – flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0,

It is looking increasingly like another year in the second tier for Leeds United, something fans will lament with one breath and praise in the other. After the torrid Cellino years, any sort of stability should be welcomed and, although Paul Heckingbottom isn’t a manager to set pulses races, one or two of his stars are. Lasogga is due back at Hamburger SV in May, but Saiz remains contracted to the club beyond this season. The former will likely not be back next season, so replacing him will be incredibly important, but Samu Saiz should be retained because, in him, Leeds have a player that can change a game in a instant.

Who knows, with a little bit of luck and hard work, it might just happen as early as this season. Miracles do happen every day in football and Leeds United are undoubtedly due one soon

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Too Many Leeds United “Fans” Forget That Saiz Matters – by Rob Atkinson

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Saiz leaves early after zero dribbles and one spit

Characteristically, Leeds United has contrived to make a drama out of a crisis, compounding the humiliation of an FA Cup Third Round exit at minnows Newport by adding the embarrassment of an on-pitch spitting scandal, as well as the six-match loss of star player Samu Sáiz. To make matters even worse, the intellectually-challenged end of the Whites’ support then took to Twitter with the express intention, so it seemed, of unleashing their long-repressed bigotry and incipient racism by attacking Sáiz in the worst kind of Daily Mail-reading Colonel Blimp-inspired terms. It made for very unedifying reading, even for Twitter after one of Leeds’ frequent bad days at the office.

There’s no getting around the fact that spitting at a sporting opponent is a disgusting matter, deserving of punishment and not to be tolerated – or even mitigated, if it comes to that. It initially seemed an odd affair to me, with some confusion and delay surrounding the red card in the immediate aftermath of Newport’s late winner. But Sáiz appears now to have admitted, acknowledged and apologised for his transgression, so that’s that. He’s bang to rights and indefensible, he’ll have to do his time, repent at leisure and make sure he sticks to his vow that this will never happen again.

Incidentally, and particularly for those who think I’m an uncritical Sáiz apologist, his conduct has worried me before, and I’ve gone into print hoping he’d see the error of his ways. This was over an early season tendency to wave imaginary cards when fouled, something that risked attracting the ref’s attention negatively, and a habit I’ve always hated. So I don’t see Samu as any sort of paragon of virtue; even so, some of the stick and abuse he’s received from alleged Leeds fans since the Case of the Newport Spit has been sickening in the extreme – decorum prohibits the reproduction of many of the remarks here. Suffice to say that there’s been a nasty, racist overtone in the murkier regions of the Leeds Twitter hashtag, many of the boneheads who like to comment there seeming to have forgotten what the little Spanish wizard has contributed to our faltering season so far.

It’s not big and it’s not clever, but then again, that just about sums up some of our Twitter knuckle-draggers. Sadly, the temptation to jump aboard a Brexiteer anti-“foreign signing” bandwagon appears to have been just too much to resist for many of these hard-of-thinking opportunists, with some of them engaged for hours on end in trying to outdo their IQ-minus cronies in a competition to see who could be the most offensively tasteless in their treatment of United’s best player this season.

The subtext emerging was of a groundswell of opposition, again mainly at the thicker end of United’s online adherents, to the idea of signing non-British players in the first place. Some Leeds fans, apparently, will not be happy until United’s first team consists of blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan stereotypes, goose-stepping their way towards the lower leagues with the Sieg Heils echoing from the stands – a harking back to the early and mid-eighties. But those days are gone; the continental and global lads are here to stay, they will continue to provide the best hopes of success – and the Twitter and other social media morons are welcome to crawl back under the stones from which they should never, in these more enlightened times, emerge.

It’s to be hoped that this will be a storm in a teacup, that United will safely negotiate the enforced and unfortunate absence of Sáiz – and that, when he returns, he will be given the warm welcome that his value to the team deserves. And that will probably be the case, because Leeds will surely move to cover for the lad’s loss, while the bulk of the United support are a silent yet match-day raucous majority, who will always be behind the men in the shirts, whether they hail from Selby or Spain.

Samu’s been a silly lad, but many, many young footballers are guilty of that; he’s not the first, he’ll not be the last, and it’s got absolutely bugger-all to do with his nationality. So, enough of all that nonsense. What we need now is to get stuck in as a United Leeds for the rest of the season, that’s boardroom, management, players and fans – and put this sorry incident behind us. The rest of the transfer window promises to be interesting or maybe even exciting, and meanwhile there’s a formidable array of opposition waiting to tackle a Samu-less Leeds. Let’s stick together, ignore the ten-a-penny haters – and show them all what we’re really capable of.

Leeds United’s Chris Wood Escapes FA Ban for Vicious Headbutt   –   by Rob Atkinson


The FA, having announced a six match ban for Liam Cooper of Leeds United for a stamping incident, has also disclosed that it had considered a similar sanction against United’s Chris Wood, for the offence of “head-butting Tyler Blackett‘s elbow”. The governing body in its wisdom and mercy has, however, deemed that a severe warning will suffice on this occasion.

Leeds have questioned the severity of Cooper’s ban, for an offence identical to that which saw manchester united’s Marcos Rojo get off scot-free recently. However, the FA’s response to United’s protest was “Yah boo sucks, we don’t care. Watch it, you Yorkshire scum, or we’ll have 15 points off you.”

Reading manager Jaap Stam has confirmed his satisfaction with the official outcome, remarking that he never did anything like that when he was a player and that, if he did, he always got away with it.

Former FA Secretary Alan Hardaker would have been 104, if he hadn’t been dead 37 years. 

England’s Iceland Showing Would Have Disgraced Leeds United   –   by Rob Atkinson

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Woy, wesigned to the wepurcussions of failure

As a Leeds United fan over the course of the past decade or so, you need to have developed a certain gallows sense of humour. The ability to have a laugh at yourself, or at least a reluctantly tolerant smile when the pain is just too intense, has seen many of us through many an agonising and humiliating moment. And this forms a mindset where, faced with some setback or disappointment unconnected with our beloved Whites, we might grimace cynically and say through gritted teeth “That were just like watching Leeds” – a wry inversion of the “just like watching Brazil” hymn of praise. When one of us says that something was “just like watching Leeds”, you can tell it’s not been an enjoyable experience.

So it came to pass that, as England‘s abject, shameful performance against Iceland unfolded, the Facebook statuses and the Tweets started, on my Whites-centric feed mostly with that common theme. That was just like watching Leeds. Wow, you thought. That bad, eh?

The thing is, though – it was actually so much worse than watching Leeds. Because our national side gave a performance of staggering ineptitude, incredible cluelessness. England were nervous and anxious at best, simply incompetent and bumbling the more the game went on. Rooney, supposedly reinvented as a deeper midfielder, spraying accurate passes about, could hardly hit a ten yard ball. His passes were off target, his services in from wide were over-hit (as were “quality delivery merchant” Harry Kane’s). It was, in short, a typical Rooney, typically English international finals performance. 

For the rest, they nearly all seemed afflicted by the same nightmare conviction that, whatever they attempted, it simply wouldn’t come off. Only when Marcus Rashford came on, with the innocence and arrogance of his youth, did England look remotely like getting anywhere. The men in white lacked the belief, the character and the guts to seize the game by the scruff of the neck. In the context of nightmares again, it was as if they needed to get moving, but found themselves wading through a foot of treacle, their energy drained, their heads empty. The longer it went on, the worse it got. It was a shameful embarrassment of a performance. After their early penalty joy, England could have played from now until Christmas, and still might have failed to score. 

Over forty-odd years, I’ve seen many abject performances from Leeds United. I’ve seen lack of effort punished, lack of pride and commitment bringing their inevitable dread reward. I’ve seen it all as far as bad times go, and – lest we forget – some good times too. But as far as the awful side of things is concerned – well, with hand on heart and with God as my witness, I’ve never, ever seen anything as bad from a Leeds team as I saw from that Three Lions shower last night. Just like watching Leeds? We should be so lucky.

People keep on coming out with the fact that Iceland has a population less than that of Leicester, but that – hur, hur – Leicester has been able to spring its own surprise lately. Very good. Apparently, it’s also true to say that Iceland has more volcanoes than professional footballers. On last night’s evidence, that could be true of England too. The bottom line is that such a performance – for want of a more appropriately descriptive word – goes way beyond unacceptable and plumbs greater depths than anything even the most unfortunate of us will have seen from our club sides, where work-rate and a bit of fight are the very least we demand and expect.

Just like watching Leeds? Not on this occasion. Leeds would have given that Iceland side a decent game. Leicester would almost certainly have beaten them. Perhaps, this coming season, when the performance levels of our lads in White dip below our meagre expectations, some terrace wit might start off a rendition of “England – it’s just like watching England…”

That, at least, would have the comparison the right way around.

No Official Response to WHY Mancunian Ref Taylor Was Picked for Man Utd Match – by Rob Atkinson

Former Man U favourite Howard Webb celebrates with his team-mates... but at least he wasn't from Manchester

Former Man U favourite Howard Webb celebrates with his team-mates… but at least he wasn’t from Manchester…

Leeds United fans have cause to remember Wythenshawe referee Anthony Taylor – not too fondly, though – for his performance in a game between United and Middlesbrough early in the 2011/12 season. Taylor contrived to send off Jonny Howson and Max Gradel of Leeds as well as Boro’s Tony McMahon in a game which then United manager Simon Grayson described as “not having a dirty tackle in it”. Middlesbrough won the match 1-0.

That might well establish Mr. Taylor as a referee of less than optimal competence, certainly in Whites fans’ eyes – and yet he has gone on to officiate regularly in the Premier League, appearing to court controversy at about the same rate as any other referee on the roster – less, even, than some that we could name (and have named in the past). The other week, though, proud Mancunian Taylor dropped a particularly public clanger when failing to award a clear penalty against Man U at Newcastle United‘s St James Park, in a game won by the visitors with a late goal. Tim Krul gifted an easy chance to Ashley Young, who snapped it up before he could even remember to dive – and another Man U smash and grab was done. Same as it ever was, you might say. A penalty not given against Man U and a spawny late winner for them too – what’s so unusual?

The major issue here, though, may not have been the missed penalty – nor even the unsavoury spitting incident that Cisse of Newcastle admitted and apologised for, with Evans of Man U characteristically denying any wrongdoing, in accordance with club policy – despite clear video evidence. No, the real bugbear here is the fact that – for no apparent reason and with no possible justification – the authorities saw fit to appoint a Mancunian referee for a match involving a Manchester-based club.

To my knowledge, there was always a rule whereby a referee from the same area as one of the teams contesting a match would not be selected to take that fixture. That just seems like good, plain common sense, and I haven’t heard of any change to what was always a rigidly-observed convention. The not exactly infrequent situation whereby what seemed an obvious penalty was not awarded against Man U becomes even more unfortunate and embarrassing when combined with this additional and avoidable referee situation. Why on earth would the authorities court even more controversy than arises as a matter of routine, every time Man U get off scot free on a stonewall penalty shout?

Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has been a loud and frequent critic of the kid-glove treatment that is still handed out to the Pride of Devon, even now in these post-Ferguson times when – presumably – the powers that be are in somewhat less of a state of abject fear than they were when the Demented One was in charge of Man U and, by extension, the game. So this is not, perhaps, a voice that will be seen to be particularly impartial or unbiased. And yet the facts speak for themselves. It is simply true to state that rarely a month goes by without some blatantly naff decision in favour of the denizens of the Theatre of Hollow Myths. It’s no secret, and there’s plenty of internet wringing of hands that goes on about it, with a predictably bland and complacent attitude on the part of both Man U, their hordes of armchair fans and the nominal rulers of the game. But to have them allocated their own, local referee as well, for a game that might well have been tricky for van Gaal’s men had decisions gone as they perhaps should – that really rather does take the biscuit, if not the actual urine sample.

I’ve not been able to find any guidance or regulation which formalises rules as regards geographical origin of referees insofar as it’s relevant to any particular fixture – I’m aware that there are some pretty nifty sleuths out there though, so any input to clear the matter up would be welcome. But it’s surely just common sense and good practice to select an official who hails from as far as possible from the homes of any two competing teams. It just makes for a fairer feel to proceedings. And – let’s face it – you could actually choose a ref from Devizes, and he’d be just as likely an adoring fan of “Nitid” as not. Those glory-seekers are all over the place, after all. But it rubs the nose of every fan of every other club in the league well and truly in it, to make such a daft and open-to-suspicion appointment as a Mancunian ref for a Man U match.

Are they really that stupid at the FA and/or EPL? Are they really that loftily complacent and arrogant as not to bother even giving the impression of ensuring fair play?? The distasteful combination of yet another bottled penalty decision, together with the fact that it was a blatantly Manc ref that bottled it, leaves a decidedly nasty taste in the mouth.

So what are these idiots and incompetents actually up to? I first asked this question immediately after the game in question. Predictably, there has been zero response. But, surely, it’s time we were told.

Graham Salisbury Not QUITE the Worst Ref Ever: Top Five Leeds Official Hate Figures – by Rob Atkinson

Webb:  Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Webb: A Sad Loss to the Pride of Devon – Yet Not as Bent as Michas or Kitabdjian

Just to put into a proper context Graham Sainsbury’s dreadful performance as match referee for Leeds v Brentford, I thought I’d highlight some famous instances where Leeds have signally failed to get the rub of the green over the years.

Despite the fact that, currently, it’s the elderly and bewildered dotards of the Football League itself girding their withered loins to deal our club a death blow (with the current batch of refs, Clueless Sainsbury among them, seemingly happy to help) the focus here is on the men in the middle rather than those clueless suits at the top. I’ve had no compunction at all about naming and shaming – these gentlemen should really be in the stocks, getting mercilessly pelted with the finest and rankest of rotten fruit and veg.

So here we go; in reverse order of spectacular bentness and/or incompetent buffoonery, these are the Top Five candidates for “Injustice of the 20th Century”:

No. 5:  Wolves 2, Leeds 1  –  8th May 1972  (Ref: Bill Gow)

I’ve placed this as least serious from a refereeing point of view because – in the crucial penalty incident – Mr Gow was unsighted and badly let down by his linesman J C Collins of Macclesfield, an inexperienced official who apparently “froze”. It does seem to have been a blatant handball and a definite penalty though – in a match where Leeds would win the Title and therefore the “Double” if they could avoid defeat. Tellingly, Mr Gow got home that night to be greeted by his wife saying “It looked a penalty on the telly.” My main culprits for this game are the callous officials of the FA and Football League, who insisted a tired team should play a title decider a mere two days after a gruelling FA Cup Final against Arsenal. Leeds did not even get to celebrate their Cup triumph, heading straight off to Wolverhampton with their battered and wounded bodies and their missing heroes. It was a shoddy affair that you could not envisage these days. Respected “Guardian” writer Eric Todd described the uncaring treatment of a gallant Leeds side as “scandalous”.

No. 4:  Leeds United 1, West Brom 2  –  17 April 1971  (Ref: Ray Tinkler)

No doubts about the culprit here. Ray “Bastard” Tinkler’s face as he walked off the Elland Road pitch after this display wore a tellingly apprehensive expression; that of a man who knew he was heading out of a storm and into a typhoon. The game turned on an offside call – or more accurately, two of them. Already one down against opponents they’d been expected to beat easily, Leeds were pressing hard. A victory was vital in the race for the Title, anything less would pass the advantage to Arsenal. Then, Norman Hunter gave the ball away on halfway with most of the Leeds side committed forward. The ball bounced off Tony Brown into the Leeds half where a clearly-offside Colin Suggett was loitering as the linesman flags for the free-kick.Tony Brown continued his run when Tinkler failed to blow in response to the flag, passed the ball to Astle – also in an offside position – who scored. A season’s work, in the words of Don Revie, was undone in a few mad moments. Barry Davies, commentating for the BBC, memorably remarked “…and Leeds will go mad.  And they’ve every right to go mad..”  Strong stuff from a sober professional. In the wake of the crowd disturbances that ensued, Leeds were forced to play their first home games of the following season away from Elland Road, a sanction that led to points being dropped, and probably contributing to their narrow failure to win the 1972 title as well. So Mr. Tinkler may well have done us for two Championship crowns. Cheers, Ray – you utter, utter git.

No. 3:  Chelsea 1, Leeds United 0  –  FA Cup Semi-final at Villa Park  29 April 1967  (Ref:  Ken Burns)

The classic FA Cup Semi: two fine teams, not at all fond of each other – the fashionable Kings Road fancy dans of Chelsea against Don Revie’s battle-hardened stormtroopers. Or so the Press would have it. Chelsea were ahead late on, a fine goal from Tony Hateley being the difference. Leeds thought they’d drawn level when Cooper scored, but the effort was chalked off for offside, despite vociferous complaints from the Leeds players who swore blind that Cooper had come from an onside position. Then, a free kick 25 yards out. The ref took some seconds organising Chelsea’s defensive wall, and then caught the eye of John Giles – a commonly-accepted signal for the free kick to be taken. Giles rolled the ball to Lorimer, who smashed it into Bonetti’s net. Leeds were joyful, Chelsea despaired – but referee Burns ruled the goal out, ordering a retake because Chelsea’s wall was not far enough back – a technical offence against Leeds. As the commentator declared, “They’ll have to look through the rule book backwards to find a reason.” The retaken free-kick came to nothing, and Leeds were out of the Cup in the cruellest circumstances.

No. 2:  Bayern Munich 2, Leeds United 0 – European Cup Final, Parc des Princes, Paris May 28 1975 (Ref: Michel Kitabdjian)

40 years on, this still sticks in the collective craw of Leeds United fans. 40 years on, we still sing “We are the Champions, Champions of Europe” in ritual protest. Two blatant penalty shouts in the first half, the guilty man on both occasions was Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.  First he handled blatantly in the area, and then a “scissors” tackle on Allan Clarke – you wondered how anyone could fail to give either.  Leeds were completely outplaying Bayern, drawing sympathy even from the English TV commentator who was bemoaning the lack of a more even contest.  Then in the second half the ball falls perfectly for Peter Lorimer just outside the Bayern penalty area.  Lorimer times his volley superbly, and it flies into the net, beating Sepp Maier all ends up.  Then confusion as the goal seems to be given, until Beckenbauer urgently directs the ref to speak to his linesman.  More confusion, then the goal is disallowed.  Bayern score twice against a demoralised Leeds near the end, and the European Cup is snatched from the hands of Revie’s old guard; the triumph that was to crown their careers torn away in the most dubious fashion imaginable.

No. 1:  Leeds United 0, AC Milan 1 – ECWC Final, Salonika, Greece 16 May 1973 (Ref: Christos Michas)

This is the Grand-daddy of bent matches, a game almost universally acknowledged to have been as straight as a corkscrew, allegations of bribery, the referee banned by UEFA afterwards – and still the 1973 Trophy is written into the extensive honours list of AC Milan.  Justice, as they say, is a gag.  Peter Lorimer on the match: “It was wholly, indisputably and wretchedly bent…”  Johnny Giles was out with an injured hamstring, but he’d been working for the media and had heard that the ref was “in Milan’s pocket”.  His gloomy view before the game was that it was one Leeds United wouldn’t be allowed to win.  Three minutes gone, and Milan are awarded a free-kick, a decision that could charitably be described as dodgy.  A weak shot takes a cruel deflection on its way into the Leeds net, and it’s 1-0 early on.  From then onwards, it was a story of United pressure thwarted by thuggish challenges from the Milanese, decision after decision going against the increasingly frustrated and demoralised Leeds team, two, possibly three good penalty shouts waved away by Michas, and inevitably the game finished with Milan leading by that early goal, collecting the trophy to hoots of anger and derision from the outraged Greek crowd who cheered the defeated Leeds side as they limped round on a lap of honour “after this most dishonourable of matches.”

There has been a petition to UEFA with a view to overturning the result in this wretched blot on the history of the game, awarding the trophy and medals retrospectively to Leeds.  UEFA did nothing.  I even started a second petition myself as, since the original effort in 2009, Christos Michas has died and is therefore not in a position to have his tender feelings wounded by justice being done.  So it seemed appropriate to try to revive the matter – after all, why should UEFA be permitted to sit complacently on such a scandalously unfair outcome? But it’s Leeds, so it’ll take a lot more than petitions to right this and other wrongs.

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Leeds have frequently been the victims of poor decisions and examples of prejudice against them over the years.  They are still, to the best of my knowledge, the only team to concede a goal to the background of the referee punching the air in celebration – supposedly of a good advantage decision, but really?  Would it happen if the victims had been Man U?  In 1987, an FA black-tie junket broke out into cheers of joy when news arrived of Leeds’ Play-off Final replay defeat against Charlton.  We appear to be hated by dopey prats everywhere.

These are the five most blatant examples I could find of occasions when “The Damned United” have suffered at the hands of officialdom, referees in particular.  I’m sure there are many less famous instances, and I’d be interested to hear the recollections of others. More recent examples could include retrospective action against Lee Bowyer which ruled what was our star man that season out of a Champions League semi-final against Valencia (check out a blatant handball for the first goal in the away leg, too) plus a dodgy re-examination of an incident involving Jermaine Beckford at home to Millwall in a vital League One game as we were going for promotion.

It’s a well-known saying in the game that bad decisions, like bad luck, tends to even out over time so that all teams are more or less equal in the long run.  I think any Leeds fan who has even a passing acquaintance with the club’s history would have a wry grin at that one. This weekend’s travesty of a refereeing performance can only strengthen the feeling that the whistle-happy pillocks really do have it in for us; yet, on reflection, it does seem fair to say that Graham Sainsbury, or even Man U fanatic Howard Webb, pictured at the top there, is very small fry indeed, when compared to the Rogues Gallery detailed above. However bad things are now, let’s comfort ourselves with the thought – they’ve been worse in the past!

FA Charge Italian Bellusci With Racism…for Speaking in Italian – by Rob Atkinson

Bellusci: "Posso negare il razzismo!"

Bellusci: “Posso negare il razzismo!

The latest news on the latest Cameron Jerome “racial abuse” claims: Leeds defender Giuseppe Bellusci will attend in person to put his version of events to an FA disciplinary commission tomorrow – let’s hope that he gets a fair hearing and doesn’t become a victim of “antipodean marsupial justice”. I won’t hold my breath – although the impartiality of football authorities’ judicial proceedings IS coming on in leaps and bounds…

There was a time when corroborative evidence from a third party was required – or at least highly desirable – in order for a charge as serious as racial abuse to be brought against a football player or other alleged offender. Rumour has it that, in some areas of footballing and other jurisprudence, that may even still be the case. But this is Leeds United, so those troublesome little considerations needn’t apply – or so it increasingly seems. 

Whatever the moral and legal ins and outs, the FA have looked into a complaint by Cameron Jerome of Norwich City FC against Giuseppe Bellusci of Leeds. Jerome alleges racist language. Bellusci hotly denies any such thing. Who is to say which man is telling the truth? It could even be that the whole thing is an unfortunate misunderstanding across the language barrier – see below. But, leaving all of these problems aside, the FA are prepared to make a case of it, despite the hideous difficulty of establishing the truth when Party A alleges something, Party B denies it (Beh, è il vostro diritto di negare questa accusa, Giuseppe, non è vero?)* – and there is no Party C to swear true from false.

* The Italian phrase above means (as nearly as Google translate allows me to render it) “Well, it’s your right to deny this accusation, Giuseppe, isn’t it?” You may notice how I have subtly emphasised the word “negare“, meaning “deny”. Apparently, one plank of Bellusci’s defence is that, after being elbowed by Mr Jerome and then being treated to a volley of ripe abuse by that gentleman, he remarked to him quite calmly, in Italian, whilst pointing at his own neck “You can’t deny the elbow”. 

If this is true, and if Jerome (whose Italian may not be exactly fluent as Serie A clubs have managed somehow to resist signing him thus far) has simply mistaken the word “negare” as something racially sinister – then, in the absence of any corroborative evidence either way, it’s very hard to see how a fair-minded, competent authority could possibly find against Signor Bellusci. That’s not to say, of course, that the FA will have any such difficulty, particularly as this is another golden opportunity for the football powers that be to have another swipe at nasty old Leeds, much to the delight of rival fans, gutter press hacks and other such morons everywhere. But that plank of the Leeds man’s defence appears, on the face of it, to be fairly stout.

It’s a pretty dicey situation, this. These are troubled, even shark-infested waters. The FA may feel that racism is such a topical hot potato that, where an allegation is made, a charge should follow as night follows day, lest they be thought of as sweeping things under the carpet. That, however, doesn’t entitle them to dispense with good old English precepts like “innocent until proven guilty” – nor yet the even older Latin one about prima facie evidence.

In the glaring absence of any corroboration whatsoever, and with the intriguing possibility of a tragic misunderstanding as outlined above, it’s genuinely difficult to see how the charge against Bellusci can be proven – even under the less legally exacting ‘balance of probabilities’ test that applies in non-criminal cases. Or, to put my paranoid hat back on, might the allegedly august governing body hold that, as the player is on the books of the Damned United, he’s more likely than not a wrong’un – and find accordingly against him? Tread carefully, chaps. There will be some pretty sharp lawyers out there watching your every step down the crooked path you might be tempted to follow. Ask Shaun Harvey over at the League about that.

Leeds United AFC, it warms my heart to confirm, are standing four-square behind their man, and for solid and grounded reasons – namely: the player consistently denies the allegation; and there is no independent confirmation of what was, or wasn’t, said. Certain Norwich City supporters have taken to Twitter and hormonally demanded that Leeds United should be summarily liquidated for this stance. I can only clap my face to my palm in despair and recommend that such very un-cerebral people might benefit from an elementary law course, a session watching “Petrocelli” or maybe a somewhat larger gene pool – quite possibly all three. Not, of course, that I would wish to be in any way Wurzellist or yokellist here.

As ever with Leeds United and their frequent brushes with the game’s authorities, it’s not possible to predict any outcome with any degree of confidence. But, given the apparent and hard-to-dispute facts of this case, surely there would have to be an excess of stupidity, malice and vindictiveness for the decision to go against Bellusci. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time that has happened…

The sad fact is that we are in a mess largely of our own making in that football governing bodies and fans organisations alike have tended over the past few decades to recoil in horror at any manifestation of racial prejudice. This has to be A Good Thing, of course – but it can have unfortunate consequences and there is arguably too much room these days for sledgehammers to be employed in the cracking of walnuts.

I’m not advocating any return to the days when a racial slur was tolerated and complainants were advised to take a “sticks and stones may break my bones” approach. It is tempting to wonder, though, what the likes of Cyrille Regis and Viv Anderson feel about the current squeamishness over name calling by the ignorant, as compared with what they had to go through in their seventies heyday – having bananas thrown at them, and other disgusting manifestations of brainless and moronic behaviour. What of our own late and lamented Albert Johanneson, who was staggered to find that he was allowed in the communal bath with the rest of the players, so used was he to being considered a second-class citizen where he grew up. Would our Albert have had a hissy fit over a name he thought he’d heard someone call him? Of course not. It’s all relative, and Albert had come from something far, far worse.

Surely to goodness, there’s a sane and happy medium somewhere? The experience of the past few years seems to be that it’s far too easy for allegations of racism to be made over hasty and possibly misapprehended words, exchanged in the heat of battle. If racial abuse can be demonstrated and if proof is at hand, then the offender should be dealt with accordingly – and in a manner to leave him (or her) in absolutely no doubt as to the inadvisability of such childish and ignorant carrying-on. But kangaroo courts hearing trumped-up charges based on uncorroborated and very possibly flawed statements – that’s a dangerous path to tread, and not one calculated to lead to increased harmony in our increasingly multi-cultural leagues. Whatever next? Will we see some hapless and brainless defensive midfielder hauled up on charges of being gingerist or stoutist? Just how stupid is the game prepared to make itself look?

Verbal abuse (whether racially-motivated or not) if it’s going to be the basis of disciplinary charges, needs to be at the most deeply offensive end of the scale – and it needs to be witnessed to such a degree as to make denial implausible. Otherwise, we’re going to continue with this spate of “name-calling” charges, and it’ll be open season on any hothead who lets his gob run away with him when tensions rise out there on the park. This would do no person and no cause any good at all – it would serve merely to trivialise something potentially highly damaging to the whole of sport and indeed society at large.

Here’s hoping that this current situation was the product of a misunderstanding, that both parties can be satisfied this is the case – and that the FA can conduct an urgent root and branch review into the standard of evidence and corroboration required before its wheels of justice start to grind. There is a very real danger here that our national sport’s venerable governing body might just end up looking even more stupid and out-of-touch than usual.

FA Need to Make Example of Newcastle Nutter Pardew – by Rob Atkinson

Pardew drops the nut as Howard Webb looks on

Pardew drops the nut as Howard Webb looks on

It’s rather an article of faith for Leeds United fans – some might even call it a tell-tale symptom of paranoia – to seize upon notable examples of bad behaviour by those at other clubs, wondering out loud: how would the authorities react if it had been us doing something like that?

The weekend incident when Newcastle manager Alan Pardew committed what amounted to common assault on an opposition player was a case in point. Just imagine if, say, Don Revie had upped and nutted Emlyn Hughes for example, or perhaps even an establishment darling like Bobby Charlton. The likes of Alan Hardaker would doubtless have demanded the death penalty, and our own Sir Don might well have ended up dangling from a lamp-post on Lancaster Gate.

Petulance and over-aggression, under the pitiless gaze of the omnipresent TV cameras, are becoming more and more of a problem on the football field. But in Saturday’s meeting of Hull City and Newcastle United, the issue reared its ugly head, so to speak, in the managerial technical area. With very little provocation – and somewhat less thought – Toon manager Alan Pardew acted like an inveterate thug, utterly disgracing himself and, by association, his club.

The circumstances were bizarre. No excuses could be made in terms of pressure or stress, no mitigation is available by way of any sense of injustice or bad luck. Rather, if anything, the opposite. Pardew’s Newcastle team were 3-1 up, having landed a hat-trick of sucker punches while Hull City had battered away at the Geordies’ goal to no avail. Then, City midfielder David Meyler, hastening to retrieve the ball for a throw-in, had the temerity to jostle Pardew in passing. Was this at the root of what followed? Did Pardew feel that his immense managerial dignity had been ruffled in his being brushed aside by a mere Hull City player?

Whatever the cause, Pardew reacted like a teenage hoodlum with twelve pints of White Lightning inside him. Facing up to a startled Meyler, the irate manager – there is no other way to describe this – butted his hapless target in the face. He “dropped the nut”, as we say hereabouts. Stitch that! He inflicted a “Pontefract Kiss”, which involves forehead but no lips and is decidedly not an expression of affection. The TV commentators yowled in shock and disgust. The pundits on Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme giggled, as is their wont, in delighted schoolboy amazement, tinged with an awful sense of what the headmasters at the FA might now do.

Let’s not be coy here – this was no ritualistic “shoving of a player’s head in the general direction of equally riled-up opponent”. You sometimes do get that between opposing players, and it’s usually more like two wary stags trying to show aggression without getting hurt, than any real intent to land a blow. Pardew’s offence was different. It was a full-on, neck flexed, calculated nutting, aimed at a player who clearly expected nothing of the sort from a Premier League manager. As Pardew’s forehead landed, the football world shook.

It’s been said quite a few times since the incident that such behaviour from a manager is unprecedented.  Yet Pardew does have form for touchline aggression, having been caught on camera in the past, going full throttle for the distinguished throat of Arsene Wenger.  This most recent descent of the red mist over Pardew’s vision is baffling, mainly for the relative lack of provocation in what was a fairly comfortable situation for his team – but also for the sheer lunatic foolhardiness of the act.  This is a man, let’s not forget,  who needs to be able to demonstrate the temperament and emotional stability to have charge of a squad of highly-paid athletes in the white-hot atmosphere of Premier League combat.  Pardew has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that he lacks these qualities and you have to fear for his future, if not his sanity.

This is surely a situation where the game’s authorities have to act, and act decisively.  They really are honour-bound to throw the book at Pardew if they are to send a sufficiently emphatic message to the effect that this sort of thing is simply unacceptable.  Newcastle United themselves have attempted to defuse any action by the game’s rulers, imposing a heavy club fine and issuing an official warning.  But really, the man’s credibility is shot – surely Newcastle cannot afford to be tainted by association with such a liability.  The Toon fans of my acquaintance would not mourn his departure, and it may well be that a quality squad would benefit from a wiser, calmer head in charge of their team.

If Pardew now stays in charge of what is a significant if not huge Premier League club, then what sort of message does that send out to everybody involved with football – the players, managers, fans – everyone?  What does it teach the young kids who watch football avidly on TV and will have seen Pardew’s nut-job in full HD and glorious slo-mo?  Nothing of any good, that’s for certain.

The FA should act, and they should act swiftly.  We are given to understand that they will investigate the matter – and of course they have no power to dismiss Newcastle’s manager; that is a club decision.  But by imposing a touchline ban of significant length, the FA could perhaps force Newcastle United’s hand, compelling them to realise that hanging on to Alan Pardew is in nobody’s interests – probably not even his own, given the pressure he will now be under every time Newcastle play.

I’d find it very hard to defend a Leeds United manager in these circumstances – though I probably would try.  That’s where blinkered loyalty leads you.  It’s more than likely that some Newcastle fans will be minded to defend Pardew. But he’s made a fool of himself and it reflects no credit on Newcastle United FC that he’s still in post a full day after his ridiculous and foolhardy action.  A parting of the ways would probably be in the best interests of everyone concerned, and after the events at the KC Stadium on Saturday, it can hardly come soon enough.

Is Jason Puncheon Above His Weight in Attacking Ex-Leeds Boss Colin? – by Rob Atkinson

Warnock: denial

Warnock: denial

Oh, dear.  Here’s a spat that could have far-reaching consequences.  Firstly Neil Warnock, fondly known as “Colin” by his legions of ex-fans, was heard on pisspoor radio station TalkSPORT to be making jovial remarks about his former player Jason Puncheon – after the latter missed a penalty against Spurs at the weekend.  Colin opined that Puncheon lacked the “cool” to be selected as spot-kick man at a place like White Hart Lane.  Jason was understandably not a happy bunny over this and he launched a series of irate tweets, many of which were swiftly deleted – and at least some of which appeared to make allegations possibly concerning the probity of Warnock in matters not unrelated to the appearance bonuses of players under his managership.  Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a footballer dissed on the wireless and determined to bite back via Twitter.

Jason Puncheon

Jason Puncheon

Warnock has since confirmed that the matters apparently raised in the ether are being “addressed on his behalf” directly to Puncheon.  One senses the impending involvement of Messrs Sue, Grabbitt & Runn.  It’s foreseeable from this point that a welter of denials and counter-accusations may well follow, and that at some point, the FA could wish to become involved.

Whether this gathering storm has any rain to shed upon Leeds United remains to be seen.  There are those who are wondering away, in various social media, as to whether any light may be cast on the contractual situation and selection records of various un-named individuals who somehow managed to earn a living at Elland Road during the Colin era, despite a puzzling lack of form or fitness for a playing role with a major professional football club.  Such are the whisperings that are always likely to go back and forth in the aftermath of hasty and precipitate tweets, especially tweets that appeared to allege various practices upon which the game’s governing bodies would be likely to look with grim disapproval – to say the very least.

Of course these matters, once put out there into the public domain, even if only for the briefest period – will have to be looked into.  It’s possible to read a certain amount into the fact that the two men have worked together at the same club, QPR, and that – therefore – anything said in public might be expected to have some grain of truth in it, failing which it might be deemed extremely unwise and possibly costly, once the legal eagles (with apologies to Puncheon’s current employers Crystal Palace FC) get their talons into it.

For the sake of clarity and in the interests of avoiding any possible murkiness surrounding what is likely to be a developing story, a screenshot from the Twitter feed concerned is reproduced below.  The blue touch paper appears to have been lit – it may swiftly become clearer as to the explosive potential of the detonation which could now result.

Those tweets, captured before disappearing

Those tweets, captured before disappearing

Silly Red Tape in Leeds Winger Stewart’s “Technicality” Deal Needs Cutting – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Cameron Stewart in training for Leeds United

At last, success in the transfer market for Leeds United – a rare phenomenon for a January transfer window that has normally seen United fans with their noses pressed up against the window, on the outside looking in, as lesser clubs have managed to do deals our erstwhile owner Master Bates refused to sanction.  Those days are receding into the past now as a new atmosphere and a new attitude spreads throughout the club and the support.  Cameron Stewart is described as “highly regarded” and as a wide man with pace and a finish on him, he has to be a welcome addition to Brian’s sluggish squad.  It seems tolerably certain also that a second winger is to be added in the extremely near future, with Palace’s ex-Reading man and McDermott disciple Jimmy Kebe the name on everyone’s lips.  Ross McCormack let the “two signings” cat out of the bag in an incautious tweet which he then removed.  But expect Kebe, another injection of pace and creativity, to sign sometime on Friday.  Clearly, after so many tons of BS from Bates and Warnock, it’s a case of “No Bull Gives You Wingers”.

Annoyance

There is more than a slight annoyance though, over the Cameron Stewart deal.  We’ve signed him, in McDermott’s words, “on a technicality”.  What this means is that the lad has joined on a 93 day emergency loan, which we are told will rule him out of the last four league games of the season – as well as any play-off matches which we may yet just possibly be involved with.  This restriction is due to a rule about how many clubs a player can appear for in one season.  Because Stewart has played half a game for Hull, and has also played (and scored against Leeds) for Charlton this term, he cannot sign permanently for United in this window.  The emergency loan is the only way the deal could be done – and so we have this farcical situation where the winger will be unable to contribute to the very business end of the Leeds’ bid for promotion – if that is what it’s to be.

Now this, to me, is ridiculous.  Sure, you need rules – and this rule is presumably in place to prevent the daft situation of one player appearing in a bewildering variety of different shirts over one league season.  But rules should be our servants, not our masters – in other words they should be there to do a job, and not to cock things up that might otherwise have worked out for the best.  It is clearly Leeds United’s intention that Cameron Stewart will be a Whites player for the foreseeable future – the lad has evidently signed a 3 year deal which will commence in summer.  It’s equally clear that his involvement for Hull Tigers this term has been extremely marginal – one half of one game.  And yet because of this, it may well come about that Leeds will enter a play-offs campaign shorn of someone who could easily have established himself as the main United threat by then.  Not to put too fine a point on it, that sucks.

Common-Sense Dispensation

What this situation is crying out for is the football equivalent of a Papal Dispensation – some ultimate arbitration that can over-rule the sort of silliness created by the rules as they are being applied in this case.  Leeds United have done the right thing in getting the deal done by whatever means possible – if Brian McDermott wants the player, then that is the priority.  But now we need to be looking at either getting the 93 day period extended, citing unusual circumstances and the folly of having an important team member ruled out of the season’s climax – or alternatively, we should strongly request an ad hoc lifting of the “three clubs” rule.  Such a request would be based on the twin arguments that (a) Stewart has appeared for less than one full game for Hull, which is a negligible issue – and (b) a deal is actually in place which will see him become a permanent Leeds player in summer.  This is simply a common-sense argument, and there should always be latitude for the application of common-sense in any set of rules or regulations.

If such a solution could be found – and with the welter of legal eagles and sharp practice merchants surrounding any such deal, it can’t be beyond the wit of man to sort it out – then maybe some of the air of “they’ve always got it in for us”, which hangs permanently over Elland Road, may lift slightly.  I’m as paranoid as the next man, as any reader of this blog will confirm – but there is good reason for that.  Far too often in the past, Leeds have had the crappy end of the stick and have had to watch others being treated with comparative kid gloves.  Should the scenario of Stewart becoming our main man over the coming weeks act itself out, with the new winger firing us to play-off qualification with games to spare, then it would be to say the least controversial that he would have to put his feet up on the strength of half a game for Hull.  And if Leeds then go on to confirm their historical play-off ineptitude, yet another instance of injustice would be added to the club’s long list of grievances against officialdom.

Perhaps, after all, the authorities might look back on situations such as Leeds having to play for the Title only two days after winning the FA Cup in 1972 – and perhaps they may feel that this Stewart anomaly is a good chance to redress the balance a little.  They could even be reminded that rules have been waived in unusual circumstances before, so there is some precedent..  Man U were allowed to sign cup-tied players for their run to the FA Cup Final in 1958 in the wake of the Munich disaster.  Of course, the two situations are hardly comparable; then again, it shouldn’t take a tragedy for common-sense to come into play, and perhaps even the mandarins who rule the game might see this.  Let’s hope so – and let’s keep our fingers crossed for a rare instance whereby that precious commodity of common-sense prevails.